Music Reviews
Tao of the Dead

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead Tao of the Dead

(Richter Scale Records) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

After courageously throwing the towel to record label heavyweights Interscope, Texan rockers …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were adamant about tracing a new path that was far from barren. This decision cemented everything they had wanted to avoid from the start: the pressures of unripe artistic expression, nebulous lineup changes, and failing to present a true calling card for those who would never understand their blazing rock posture. A death certificate had already been notarized, picking up dust at some executive’s office until it was time to end a lethargic record deal run.

When major label relationships turn into poisonous affairs, there’s no way to promptly escape from the depths of an underground hellish catacomb. Loyalists were quick to pass judgment by peering through a glass darkly, discontent at how the Trail of Dead were starting to sound oh so serious instead of tabulating the death rate of equipment night after night. Unbeknownst to virtually everyone, they were always being true to themselves. For the first time, the pulverizing soundscapes Conrad Keely and company had employed were beginning to transmute into their lyrical content – furious dissent over popular culture, right wing politics, and poor foreign policies were thrown across all yards. A connectedness had been lost with the general public, which thought that no pissed off shriek could compensate for their watered-down concepts.

Thirteen years after their debut release, the Trail of Dead have nothing apologize for anymore, since they’ve survived the same muddy path many have previously sunk on. What you see is what you get: a fully ironic band of misfits whose agenda is to wank shredding prog shticks and mammoth chord wails. Combining some of that punk force with a surfeit of seventies indulgences, Tao of the Dead transcends the concept of hybrid. It features an all-access package of the usual features: instrumental warm-ups, reprises, occasional bouts of sentimentality, and brimming excess. Like all Trail of Dead records, familiarity is preserved as a way to coalesce with any new theme that is presented.

Aptly titled An Introduction: Let's Experiment surges with a super charged two minutes of skuzzy guitars that soar into the skies. Traversing space rock parameters, it even time warps ten years past: those fisting drum pounds and guitar ricochets hint at eponymous release Source Tags & Codes. It continues on with Pure Radio Cosplay, a Who-like march of purist rock n’ roll and forceful drum patterns that bring back the bravado magnetism of Jason Reece when he was behind the kit. Summer of Dead Souls flies out sonic lasers with ill-mannered release on every stop; once they pick up the pace with punk ferocity, there’s no stopping them. As it goes along, neo-psychedelic textures unpredictably flaunt, supplying energy to a deceptively homogeneous core.   When compositional structures begin to mesh into each other, their concocted plan of creating two full songs in specific keys begins to make sense. 

For better or worse, the latter half of Tao of the Dead sees the band defacing their own conventions. Fall of the Empire exponentially slows things down to capture a disaster-prone atmosphere, gradually turning up a barrage of cycling drums and abrasive guitars. It introduces an unexpected middle stretch, in which they abandon extended outros and elongated progressive arrangements. And no ballads!  The Wasteland is the most theatrical, opening with a serene acoustic strum and choreographed guitar blows. Each lasting barely two minutes, The Spiral Jetty and Weight of the Sun explore a long forgotten post-hardcore urge, opting to avoid fleshing out the songs to embrace a welcome succinctness.

Maintaining restraint for all this time, the Trail of Dead ends its first piece in grand elegance with The Fairlight Pendant, a krautrock inspired clash of pyro synths, warped bass tones, and opulent keyboard effects. Whether or not you decide to indulge with the second piece is beside the point since it doesn’t interrupt the overall flow of the main album. An ode to classical movements, Strange News from Another Planet runs its 16-minute course with spiraling guitar distortion, unexpected time signature changes, and some pompous guitar jamming. Those who decide to stick around will find a surprisingly unpretentious, well thought out orchestration which evokes a Richard Wagner piece had he been alive in our era.

While Trail of Dead abandon some of their vitriolic diatribe, they now compensate with a more levelheaded form of aggression. Tao of the Dead finally channel their indulgences, creating a heroic symphony that sounds wholly constructed. They stand proudly atop carcasses of former post-hardcore acts, fully poised and with the future ahead of them. After journeying from hell and back, it’s nice to still have them around.